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Slovak election expert expelled from Cuba

2007-10-23 / Nikola Horejs

Prague, October 23 – On Sunday, October 21, Cuban police arrested two foreign tourists in Cuba after they participated in a debate with a dissident group in Santa Clara. A Slovak election expert, Peter Novotny, and his Czech interpreter were questioned for a few hours and than deported on the first Air France flight Sunday evening. The police, who accused them of defamation of the Cuban revolution, denied them their rights by not allowing them to contact their embassies and by confiscated their personal documents. Both of these individuals went to Cuba as volunteers of People in Need, a Czech human rights and relief aid NGO.

“It surprises us that they were expelled only for answering questions about elections. Apparently free elections make the Cuban government very nervous,” said Igor Blazevic, the director of the human rights programme at People in Need.

Both travelers were in Santa Clara to meet with Guillermo Frainas, a head of an independent press agency and former political prisoner, who obtained an award for defending free press from the French group Reporters without Borders. The arrests took place on the same day as Cuba’s municipal elections. Neither the municipal nor the parliamentary elections in Cuba are considered to be free by international standards. In addition, critics of the elections have noted that the ballots offer the same number of candidates as is the number of seats in the parliament. Furthermore, the Cuban Police and Revolution Defense Committees have been known to threaten citizens if they don’t participate in the election processes. International and/or domestic observers have never been allowed to monitor Cuba’s municipal and parliamentary elections since they began in 1976. Peter Novotny is a member of the European Elections Monitoring Network and he observed more than thirty elections in twenty countries. People in Need is a Czech human rights and development non-profit organization. PIN’s Cuba program has been helping political prisoners, emerging civil society and independent journalists since 1997. Please find more at www.peopleinneed.cz and www.icdcprague.org .

To find out more about Cuba’s elections please read the document below.

Nikola Horejs

Senior Programme Officer

Clovek v tisni Sokolska 18

120 00 Praha 2

Tel.: +420-226-200-461

Czech Republic Email: nikola.horejs@peopleinneed.cz

Web: www.peopleinneed.cz

Background information:

Cuba’s upcoming elections are neither free nor fair

This Sunday, 21 October 2007, Cuba will begin municipal elections for the first time since Fidel Castro handed over the power to his brother Raúl in 2006. These elections are an important first step towards the elections for the National Assembly that will be held in the spring of 2008. Delegates elected at the municipal level play a direct role in determining who the candidates will be for the national elections next year. However, these elections should not be considered free or fair by any democratic standard. People in Need, a Czech human rights and development NGO, calls upon the media and policy makers not to confuse the elections in Cuba with what are commonly called elections in democratic countries. Cuba continues to be governed by a single party regime which imprisons internal opposition and severely limits freedoms that are considered sacred in all other democratic countries. There are basic ways in which the Cuban people are not able to participate in these elections by their own free will and which the selections of candidates are limited and unfair.

A legal and political analysis of the elections by Rene Gomez Manzano, a prominent Cuban lawyer, argues that the municipal and parliamentary elections are not free or fair because:

During the municipal elections, Cubans:

 - cannot vote in secret ballots, candidates are chosen in public meetings

- cannot control the counting of ballots at all the levels of electoral committees

During the Parliamentary elections, Cubans:

- have almost no real choice in who can be considered a candidate since they have no right to propose independent candidates on a national level

- candidates are chosen by six specific organizations under the direct control of the communist party

- not affiliated with one of these six organizations have no means of participating in the selection process. - can be over-represented by serving on one or several of the organizations

- the number of candidates is equal to the number of people who are to be elected

- voters can only select the approved candidates for the ballots to be considered valid

- ballots with no candidate selected or with write-in or other suggestions are invalid Various members of the opposition have criticized the electoral system.

Oswaldo Payá Sardinas, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, called upon the government to change the law and allow real free and fair elections. “In this moment in our history, Cuba needs transparency and confidence and that only can be achieved by respecting the ideas and rights of everyone, not imposing an electoral process ... that for years has impeded the people from freely expressing and deciding for itself,” he wrote. Martha Beatriz Roque, an economist and former political prisoner, said that the elections are not secret, because candidates are selected only in public reunions. “Imagine what support can an oppositon’s cadidate get in this public meeting in front of all these people from government’s apparatus. He will immediately has to think about his sons and family, in fact that they can all loose a job or that he can even become a prisoner,” she wrote.

We ask the media and policy makers not to follow the Cuban regimes propaganda and to learn more about the real working of this process.

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